You can't make this stuff up.
Stephan Devoto was dutifully elected to the lone, vacant Planning and Zoning seat open to a Democrat in the recent election. He received more votes on the ballot than any candidate, save the mayor.
I believe he received those votes because he's perceived as honest, fair, cooperative, smart and independent-minded.
At the first meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, last week, Devoto was robbed of an opportunity to become chairman. He had the votes lined up. With alternate Beth Emery sitting for the seat vacated by Carl Chisem, who had just been elected to the Common Council, Devoto had engineered a bi-partisan vote, and constructed a bi-partisan leadership team.
Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men...
Carl Chisem showed up and took his seat at the meeting (something he apparently, legally had the right to do). He insisted he was doing his duty. To whom he was doing his duty became clear later. With Chisem sitting, and unlikely to vote for Devoto, the meeting dissolved. Republicans left the meeting, leaving it without a quorum, saying that any decisions made would be questionable because of Chisem's insistence on sitting on the P&Z and on the Common Council simultaneously. No one in town can ever remember an elected candidate insisting on serving in two capacities.
No vote was taken. Opportunity for a bi-partisan commission lost.
Conveniently, Chisem resigned his seat the next day. Doing his duty, no doubt.
Conveniently, because by the time the next P&Z meeting is held, the Common Council will make a resolution to fill that seat conveniently vacated by Chisem. The Common Council meets tonight at 7 PM in Council Chambers.
According to the agenda for that meeting, the Council is set to nominate Dan Russo to the vacated seat. This is not unusual, in that the Council often appoints the candidate who received the second highest number of votes in the election. Devoto received 4083 votes. Russo received 3589, and the next highest Democratic candidate, Robert Blanchard received 3405.
However, there is also a history of the Council selecting an alternate member of the Planning and Zoning Commission over the highest vote getter. Quentin Phipps' appointment to a P&Z seat comes to mind. In the current case, such a member, Beth Emery, exists, and she is willing to be seated as a full commissioner. She's also capable, attending meetings regularly, carefully following planning and zoning proposals, and asking good questions.
By the way, Beth Emery received 4523 votes when she was elected in 2011.
But the Council plans to appoint Russo.
We all remember Dan Russo.
He was a strong proponent of the zone change to allow Centerplan a clear path to development on Washington Street. He was a proponent despite hours of cogent testimony from opponents to the zone change. He was a proponent despite the fact that the development would hurt the neighbors, the neighborhood and a unique historic district. And in his defense of the zone change, he made statements that showed he truly didn't understand the change, or its effects.
Russo has also missed 40% of the meetings he was supposed to attend as an elected member of the P&Z.
In the past, Russo has been chastised by his fellow Democrats for supporting Joe Lieberman for Senate, when the official Democratic candidate was Ned Lamont. Interestingly, Russo was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee at that time. In that role, he also nominated himself as chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Russo also appointed himself the barometer of what a "true Democrat" is when, in a primary campaign against Democrat Stephan Devoto, he made it clear that he thought Devoto was not a real Democrat, and was in fact (horrors!), "a Republican."
With Beth Emery as a capable candidate to fill the vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission, one can only imagine that there is an ulterior motive to appoint Russo. Russo is unlikely to vote for Devoto as chair.
If they feel compelled to, the Council could provide Russo the opportunity to serve by appointing him as a P&Z alternate, after they appoint Beth Emery to the permanent seat. If Russo accepted the position as alternate, it would demonstrate his willingness to serve the community. Such selflessness is uncommon in politics, but it would be a meaningful gesture that politics of self-interest can be trumped by community service.
Ed McKeon is cofounder of the Middletown Eye. He is a friend and associate of Stephen Devoto, and worked to help Devoto get elected. Stephen Devoto did not ask or advocate for this commentary tobe written. McKeon has also been an active opponent of commercial development in the historic neighborhood on Washington Street. McKeon is also a lifelong Democrat, and a member of the Board of Education.